A crackling affair

It was a great endorsement of the longer format of the game. The script was nothing like what it was deemed to be as the young Indians competed hard and craftily enough to win more sessions in the Test.

The Wanderers has been a good venue for India, but yet again it was a case of being so near, yet so far. In hindsight, a lot of questions will crop up in everyone’s mind, the main being whether the Test needed to end in a draw, given that the South African batsmen were in control of the proceedings on the final day.

However, one has to say that the match was a great endorsement of the longer format of the game. The script was nothing like what it was deemed to be as the young Indias competed hard and craftily enough to win more sessions in the Test, to the surprise of many. Kohli (in pic.) let loose his aggressive brand of cricket to give the much needed confidence to the dressing room in the first innings which was carried on to the field in the second essay too. Pujara is like Dravid; he relishes grinding the opposition attack. He anchored the second innings and the injury to Morne Morkel helped the Indians’ cause as well. The presence of perhaps the best all-rounder in Jacques Kallis served as a blessing in disguise to Smith, because managing a three-bowler attack, when the pitch is at its best for batting, would have been a nightmare.

The final day saw the Indians take the field with a lot of expectancy but the pair of Faf du Plessis and AB de Villiers crafted a fantastic partnership to virtually turn the tables on India. Du Plessis was playing for his place in the side but Smith’s faith in him was repaid in the best manner possible. Du Plessis was understandably circumspect but he complemented well the more experienced and aggressive de Villiers. The intent and application of the South African batsmen was appreciable and it caught the Indians unawares. The solid partnership between du Plessis and de Villiers meant that the Indian bowlers were forced to dig deep into their reserves and ensure that they did not come second best. The pace trio of Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma and Mohd. Shami did well to oblige their captain with prolonged spells. In the end they achieved their objective as the pulsating Test match ended in a draw. There were a lot of raised eyebrows when the South Africans decided to shut shop in the last three overs but in a Test where wickets fell in chunks, one can’t blame Steyn and Philander for choosing discretion over bravado.

The Indians have set the South Africans thinking with a highly competitive performance at the Wanderers and the way the Indian seamers have bowled, it will be interesting to see the kind of surface they will get at Kingsmead. Let’s not forget that the Indian middle-order batsmen have put up the runs and will be confident, which means that the hosts will be under pressure. The aura of South Africa has been diluted a wee bit but their fight-back on the final day was an indication that they will compete as hard as they are known to. The Indians seamers will need to recover well enough as they have to shoulder a lot of workload in the next Test too. With Morkel’s fitness in doubt, the South Africans have their share of issues and it will take a lot of courage from Smith to persist with Imran Tahir, the leggie. The leg-spinner seemed short of confidence but the confidence of his captain might provide the spark that he needs now. One thing for sure, after the first Test the one thought that would have crossed many is that why could not this be a three- or five-Test series.